Combating human trafficking: Lessons from International Visitors Leadership Program
By Joseph OSUIGWE
THE invitation to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) was a great opportunity and platform for me to explore best practices, innovative approaches and policies to tackling human trafficking. I saw it as a platform to refuel my energy for the fight against human trafficking in Nigeria.
On arrival in Washington DC, I was anticipating the impact of the visit. I was imagining what it would be like being the only anti-human trafficking visitor to engage, learn, and exchange ideas with over 10 human trafficking organizations and government agencies. Before we headed for the first meeting, Mr. Philip Brown- my liaison officer asked me, “Joseph, since this program was specifically designed for you, I hope you will be able to make the best use of it?” This triggered my heart the more to learn and share my experiences with the organizations and agencies.
On 24th September, 2018, I visited Meridian International Centre, Washington DC for an opening session of the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), where Mr. Mark Rebstock, Vice President of Meridian Centre and Ms. Caitlin Betterdorf shared interesting details about IVLP and how to get the best from engaging different organizations and federal agencies. Thereafter, I had a two hour-interesting learning session with Dr. Lenneal J. Henderson (Adjunct Professor of Government College of William) on the overview of the U.S. system of government, its decentralized nature and the decision-making process that flows from the system.
Meetings with government agencies
During my meetings with the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S Department of States-Office to Combat Human Trafficking, I was amazed at the level of importance the U.S government attached to ending human trafficking. I saw a government that has demonstrated a strong political will to combating human trafficking, and stimulating virtually all the federal agencies to take strategic actions against human trafficking through the Presidential Inter-agency Taskforce Against Human Trafficking (PITF), which comprises: U.S Department of State, Department of Treasury, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labour, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Education.
Also, I noticed that the willingness and political will of U.S Government to combating human trafficking was demonstrated in many obvious ways, and one of which was yearly funding for anti-human trafficking projects through different federal agencies. This indicates that the U.S government has set a pace for other countries in fighting human trafficking. However, there is a need for U.S government to increase funding for prevention projects, and as well adjust its current approaches to identifying victims and minor among migrants at her border.
Apart from the federal government, my meeting with Mr. Todd Latiolais at the Office of Child Trafficking Team of Texas Government revealed that most state governments in the United States have state laws/policies and initiatives to tackle trafficking in persons. This was really what I expected from state governments in Nigeria.
Meetings with civil society organizations and associations:
I had an interesting and inspiring discussion with civil society organizations (CSOs) in Washington DC and Austin, Texas. Each of my meetings with different CSOs offered a unique information and experience to me. During my visit to Polaris Project team, I toured their building observing the flow of information of the U.S National Human Trafficking Hotline which they have been operating for more than three years. It was motivating to meet young people at Polaris Project championing one of the greatest campaigns and movement against human trafficking in the United States. Their expertise in using data to stimulate action against human trafficking was superb.
It was exciting meeting and sharing experiences with Vivian Huelgo of American Bar Association (ABA), and Ms. Claire Wilkinson of International Justice Missions. While discussing with Ms. Huelgo, I learnt different approaches to increasing the interest of lawyers in combating human trafficking, and after speaking with Ms. Wilkinson, Vice President, Africa programs of International Justice Mission, I felt the urgent need for religious groups in Nigeria, including Christian and Muslims, to be engaged in combating human trafficking.
At Austin, I had the privilege of participating in the meeting of Texas Coalition against Human Trafficking where I learnt and as well shared my anti-human trafficking experiences. Meeting them was an opportunity to inspire and network with my fellow “Warriors” in the fight against human trafficking.
During the concluding part of my stay in Austin, Texas, I visited Casa Marianella and Austin Safeplace to explore their facilities, learn how they are rehabilitating survivors, and meet with some of the survivors of human trafficking from Africa, North America and South America.
As the figure of the victims of human trafficking continues to rise in Nigeria, the federal government, through relevant agencies such as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), must as a matter of necessity and urgency, come up with robust policies and programmes to tackle the menace.
Joseph OSUIGWE is the founder and Executive Director of the Devatop Center for Africa Development, a nonprofit organization focused on combating human trafficking and gender-based violence.